The Life of Charles Herle

Charles Herle was born in approximately 1597 as one of six sons just outside of Lostwithiel, Cornwall, in the southwest region of England. Later, he relocated to Oxford where he matriculated at Exeter College in 1612. He pursued his education at Exeter, and received both his BA and MA from that institution in 1615 and 1618 respectively. [1] This was typical of a student at the time, as the age of admission was usually fifteen or sixteen.[2] While at Exeter, he most likely received some form of moral religious instruction in addition to strictly academic instruction, since each student had a tutor who was expected to help guide them morally and intellectually.[3] He studied Latin, logic, grammar, and rhetoric, among other subjects.[4] Although he later became a clergyman, there is no mention of him having pursued an advanced degree in theology.[5] His education at Exeter, however, included adherence to Christian values and mandatory church services.[6] After graduating, he tutored James Stanley, Lord Strange, and began his career as a writer and as a clergyman. Initially, he was made rector of Creed, Cornwall, in 1625, but on June 27, 1626, he became rector of Winwick, Lancashire, in northwest England.[7]

As a rector in Winwick, Herle was in charge of many of the day-to-day happenings of the church. Herle would have been one of the parish’s preachers, giving Sunday sermons and teaching from the Bible. Herle, as well as the rest of his congregation, would have shared in the belief that the church was in need of further purification [8]. It is also around this time that Herle began to write pamphlets. He began by writing a pamphlet entitled Contemplations and devotion on the severall passages of our blessed saviours death and passion [9]. While this was Herle’s first pamphlet, he wrote many more, often in response to others. Herle also began to show his tendency to become involved in political situations, often voicing his own thoughts and opinions [10]. Pamphlet writing was not only important to Herle in this time period. Many Puritan clergymen wrote pamphlets, and printed them in mass amounts so that they could be passed around and the ideas of the Puritan church could be shared with many people [11]. It is also around this time that Herle is believed to have married. He then had ten children with his wife [12]. Herle continued to write more pamphlets, many condemning the practices of the Catholic Church as well as the actions of King Charles I [13].

One of the main reasons historians remember Herle is because of his series of pamphlets in response to Henry Ferne. In 1642, Ferne published The Resolving Conscience, which was a essay in the defense of the king.[14] A month later Herle responded with A Fuller Answer to a Treatise Written by Dr Fearne. Herle argued that Parliament had the right to “take up Armes without, and against the Kings personal commands.”[15] About a month later Herle released another pamphlet directed at Ferne titled An Answer to Mis-Led Dr Ferne According to his Own Method, which again criticized Ferne’s defense of the king, drawing “on wide historical precedent.”[16] Two more pamphlets, one by Herle and one by Ferne, were published directed at each other. It is interesting to see Herle so invested in politics, especially since he was a man of religion. John Morrill explains this in his article “The Religious Context of the English Civil War.” Morrill found in his study of the English Civil War that the people most “willing to raise armies to impose the new guarantees on the King” were people with a high “level of commitment to the godly cause.”[17] The people most committed to reforming England’s government were the people most committed to God. Herle was definitely committed to God, as he wrote multiple pamphlets on Protestantism. In his final pamphlet to Ferne, Herle pushed for Parliament to have almost full control “in the making of law and execution of laws,” cementing his support for Parliament.[18] Herle’s religious attitude pushed him to defend Parliament instead of the king.

Herle’s commitment to religion is further demonstrated by his participation in the Westminster Assembly, a gathering of religious men called by Parliament in 1643 to decide how to reform the English church with Herle and several of his associates as members.[19] Herle was part of the English Presbyterian faction in the deeply divided Assembly, though he sometimes supported the Scottish Presbyterians.[20] He also tolerated the Independents and gave permission for an Independent pamphlet to be published, though his personal views were mostly Presbyterian.[21] On September 29, 1643, Herle was placed on the grand committee of the Westminster Assembly, suggesting that he was a relatively prominent member.[22] He certainly participated in the debates of the Assembly. For example, when the Assembly was discussing whether laymen should be allowed to participate in church government, Herle pointed out that the Bible does not provide a detailed form of church government.[23] He also opposed an early attempt at compromise and agreed with another member’s suggestion that they must be careful about making rules based on vague parts of the Bible.[24] The Assembly eventually declared that the Bible justified the participation of laymen in church government, which the English Presbyterians did not necessarily like, but seem to have accepted.[25] Despite this participation in debate, Herle likely shared the general English Presbyterian sentiment that establishing a reformed national church mattered most and that the specifics of Presbyterianism could be compromised on if necessary to achieve that goal.[26] He was still a member of the Assembly on July 22, 1646, when he was elected prolocutor of the Assembly, and may have been involved until the Assembly ended.[27]

In 1647, Herle was declared commissioner of Parliament along with Stephen Marshall. Following the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649, Charles Herle stepped back from politics and went on to live a normal life as a clergyman. Herle retired and began to work in the vineyards at Winwick where he continued his religious practices. Before his death he contributed to sermons, books, and policies, including Worldly Policy and Moral Prudence, Abraham’s Offerings, and David’s Reserve and Rescue.[28] Dr. Fuller described Herle as “a good scholar, and esteemed by his party a deep divine; and he was so much the Christian, the scholar, and the gentleman, that he could agree in affection with those who differed from him in judgment.”[29] Charles Herle died in September, 1659 as a respected man of God and Principal; for this he was buried at his Church in Winwick where he spent his last years.[30]

[1] Vivienne Larminie, “Herle, Charles (1597/8-1659),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 61 vols, gen. eds. H.C.C Matthew and Brian Howard Harrison (Oxford University Press, 2004), vol. 26: 780.
[2] G. R. Evans, The University of Oxford: A New History (1) (London, US: I.B.Tauris, 2010), accessed October 4, 2016, ProQuest ebrary, 197.
[3] Ibid., 194.
[4] Ibid., 214-226.
[5] Larminie, “Herle, Charles,” 780.
[6] Evans, New History, 229.
[7] Larminie,”Herle, Charles,” 780.
[8] Everett H. Emerson, English Puritanism from John Hooper to John Milton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1968), 3.
[9] Larminie,”Herle, Charles,”  781.
[10] Francis J. Bremer, Shaping New Englands: Puritan Clergymen in Seventeenth-Century England and New England (New York: Twayne, 1994), 65.
[11] Ibid., 21.
[12] Larminie,”Herle, Charles,” 781.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] John Morrill, “The Religious Context of the English Civil War,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 34 (1984): 175.
[18] Larminie,”Herle, Charles,” 781.
[19] Ethyn Willams Kirby, “The English Presbyterians in the Westminster Assembly,” Church History 33, no. 4 (December 1964): 418.
[20] Ibid., 418-419.
[21] Ibid., 419.
[22] Larminie, “Herle, Charles,” 781.
[23] Kirby, “English Presbyterians,” 424.
[24] Ibid., 425.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid., 426-427.
[27] Larminie,”Herle, Charles,” 782.
[28] James Reid, Memoirs of the Lives and Writings of Those Eminent Divines (Paisley: Printed by Stephen and Andrew Young, 1811), 29.
[29] Ibid., 28.
[30] Ibid., 24-30.

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